Thursday, July 05, 2018

'Adoration of the Magi' by Rubens in King's College Chapel, Cambridge

Yesterday I posted a short video on my Facebook Page of the fan vaulting on the ceiling and stained glass windows of King's College Chapel in Cambridge. It's the largest example of fan vaulting in stone in Europe (see below). The chapel also has some very fine stained glass windows which amazingly survived the Civil War.

The fan vaulting of King's College Chapel with the large wooden rood screen
King's College Chapel is considered to be one of the finest examples of late Perpendicular Gothic in English architecture. It was started in 1446, completed in 1536 and is in active use.

Celia Hart saw my video and told me this story
I hope you took time to admire the Rubens 'Adoration of the Magi'. My father made the wooden triptych picture frame, which was then carefully painted with gesso and one side carefully sanded to an eggshell finish. It was transported to London for an artist (I don't know her name) to create the grisaille harlequin design on the doors. When Dad went to collect the finished frame he found the design had been painted on the rough side! the artist said she preferred the texture to the super smooth finish.

Previous to the Rubens being installed the choir area had ornate dark oak carved panelling. My father (working at Rattee & Kett at the time) was instructed to remove it, and the panels were stored above his workshop. I used to go up in the store loft to see them while I waited for Dad to finish work. Years later and after the old workshops were sold I asked King's College if the panelling still existed, apparently it's now in another store somewhere in Cambridge.
I did indeed - and below you can see my photographs of "Adoration of the Magi" by Peter Paul Rubens.

I also found a link online to a page on the Kings College website about Installing 'Adoration of the Magi' by Rubens in 1967, which presumably related to the episode Celia relates above.

The view of the altar - with Adoration of the Magi in its frame - at the eastern end of the chapel
In 1961 'The Adoration of the Magi', painted by Sir Peter Paul Rubens in 1634 for the convent of the White Nuns at Louvain in Belgium was presented to the College by Maj. A.E. Allnatt with the idea that it should once again be an altar-piece in a great church. During the next seven years, work was undertaken to remove the panelling and lower the floor level so that the work of art was positioned below the beautiful stained glass of the East window. The altar before Rubens
Next is the entire painting above the altar.

Adoration of the Magi by Rubens
- in the frame made by Celia's father
and here's a close up of the main business of the painting

Close up of Adoration of the Magi by Rubens

The Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens painted Adoration of the Magi c.1616-17 during a period when he lived in Antwerp as the leading Flemish painter of that period.

Apparently the painting achieved a world-record price in 1959 when it was sold to the property millionaire Alfred Ernest Allnatt. Two years later he gifted it to Kings College Chapel with a view to it being used as an altarpiece.

More about King's College Cambridge

The College website has more information about:
  • the History of the Chapel - the foundation stone was laid in 1446 and the fan vaulting was completed in 1515. 
  • the History of the College - founded in 1441 by King Henry VI, college buildings developed over the centuries
I had never realised before that the entire construction was played out within the context of the Wars of the Roses

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